•Obanikoro blasts APC over soldiers deployment
•‘Our two-pronged war against Boko Haram’
MINISTER of State for Defence, Senator Musiliu Obanikoro, in this interview, says there is a nexus between the delay at rescuing the abducted Chibok girls and the need to avoid losing the girls in the rescue process. He also dismisses the criticism against the deployment of soldiers for the Osun State gubernatorial election, held, yesterday, as a standard practice.
BY CHARLES KUMOLU
How do you respond to the claim by the APC that the Federal Government is militarizing elections by deploying soldiers for the Osun election (held yesterday) and the one held in June in Ekiti?
Deploying soldiers to elections is standard practice. This is not the first time it will be done. In 2012, about 3,500 soldiers were deployed to Edo State for the gubernatorial election. Governor Adams Oshiomhole even hailed President Jonathan for it. APC won the election and they didn’t cry about militarization. So you can see the hypocrisy that drives the politics of the APC.
Is it not on record that even the US government commended INEC and our security forces for a job well done in Ekiti? Only troublemakers who want to rig should be afraid of soldiers and other security forces being deployed to beef up security during elections. Law abiding citizens have nothing to fear.
Despite the efforts of the military, attacks by Boko Haram have continued while the Chibok girls are yet to be rescued. What do you make of that?
I think it is important we approach this issue of war against insurgency within the context of a global security concern. Nigeria is not alone in the war against insurgency and that is why we have adopted a wide range of sub-regional and international collaborative approaches towards addressing the scourge of Boko Haram.
How we got to where we are today is unfortunate.
What began as a northern Nigerian problem has metamorphosed into a Nigerian problem. Everyone is now affected. The consequence of years of mass illiteracy and the politics of underdevelopment in the North contributed to birthing the scourge called Boko Haram. But this is not a time to trade blames and all hope is not lost. As we continue to explore the strategies of a military operation in putting an end to the Boko Haram insurgency, we are also committed to the developmental components of the war, which serve a preventive and restorative purpose.
The Safe Schools Initiative and the Terror Victims Support Fund championed by President Goodluck Jonathan are clear examples of our government’s determination to deploy the right mix of both military and developmental strategies in winning this war against the enemies of our collective humanity.
You became Minister of State for Defence in March 2014. Within the short time you have spent in office, do you have reasons to believe Nigeria is winning the war against Boko Haram?
I am very optimistic about our war against Boko Haram. Yes, there are challenges here and there but I am a fervent believer in the principle of evil being conquered by good. For us, the challenge of fighting terrorism as we have seen it is new; it has never been part of our national life. It will take some time to overcome. It is on record that I have always said that overcoming terrorism is not a 100m dash. It is a marathon.
Our troops may never have all the money they need as is the case with most Military systems in the world but Nigerians must have faith in the capacity that we have built in these men and women as they are among the best trained in the world. We must also recognise and appreciate the effort of President Goodluck Jonathan since he assumed office. Motivation for our troops continues to increase and I can tell you that some of the military hardware acquisitions we are making today have not been done in the last 25 years.
You have been at the forefront of calling on citizens to support the Nigerian troops. What exactly does this entail?
In my entire public service experience from being a local government chairman, a commissioner, a senator, an ambassador and now minister, I have never seen where Government succeeds alone by itself without the support of its citizens. Not to even talk about fighting a war against insurgents within our territorial borders. So I maintain that the war against insurgency cannot be won by our Military alone. And this is why I have always appealed to Nigerians to support our troops morally and with whatever information they have at their disposal that can help our Military in fighting this war.
Security is largely an issue of intelligence gathering. And it is not just about our citizens; different levels of our national life must take this personal. Until we all take the war against Boko Haram personal, victory against terror is likely to take longer than necessary. Take for instance the local government level of governance. I am particular about that unit of our national life, which is currently being eroded. For real development to cascade from the top to the grassroots, we must bring back the local governments and allow them the autonomy and financial independence that they need to thrive.
With a functional local government in place, it becomes easier for our security agencies to work with our local communities in dealing with insurgency and other security challenges. Our religious leaders, community leaders and our family systems have a key role to play. We must continue to demonise and condemn all criminal acts in our society, especially terrorism. As parents and religious leaders, we must return to our roots and begin to instill the right values in our children. We are not terrorists.
Terrorism is alien to the true Nigerian spirit. We must teach this in our homes, preach this in our churches and in our mosques. Our traditional and community leaders, especially those in the North must take a cue from how Nigeria to a large extent solved the problem of the Niger Delta insurgency. It would not have been possible without the support of the traditional and community leaders and other stakeholders in the Niger Delta. For you in the media, you know your role is to be the watchdog and conscience of society. What the media projects, the society consumes
. While I agree that the media must remain objective and professional in its responsibility to society, the media must be careful and conscious not to become an agenda setting platform for terrorists.
Every time you devote front-page headlines to the activities of terrorists, you provide them the psychological impetus to continue in their acts of terror. We at the level of the Federal Government and the military are not left out. We must constantly remember that counter-insurgency is the art of winning public support. So, we must be ready to work with civil society organisations once we ascertain that they are not political groups hiding under the veil civil society, and support them.
We should also engage in community diplomacy and peace building. We must protect and defend the rights of our citizens to peaceful and lawful protests, and we must continue to ensure that we never harm civilians and show respect for our citizens in all our military operations.
You recently called for military reform. Has the reform process begun? Are there things on ground to show for it?
You need to understand that reform must be gradual for it to be effective. Yes, as a progressive leader, I am never satisfied with one level of development. I believe in continuous development. Under the Transformation Agenda of President Goodluck Jonathan, so much is being done to retool the capacity of our Military to meet with the contemporary challenges of national security. I must also commend the leadership of my immediate boss and partner in the defence sector, General Aliyu Gusau (rtd) for providing the steadfast leadership at the Ministry of Defence, which has brought us this far.
A lot of the efforts we are making now I cannot disclose on the pages of newspapers, but I am sure you are aware of some of the steps we have taken. We are recruiting more hands to beef up our capacity, we are training our Military, and like I mentioned earlier, we are making hardware acquisitions that will see our Military thoroughly equipped for their duties. Just to buttress the point, I recently returned from a nationwide tour of naval formations and I can say without fear of contradiction that Nigerians can count on the fact that they have a new age military motivated, willing, able and ready to uphold our national security and defend our territorial integrity at any time.
When will the Chibok girls be rescued?
I cannot tell you when they will be rescued. But what I can tell you is that we are considering a wide range of options in ensuring that the girls are rescued as soon as possible. The grief in the heart of their parents and loved ones is unimaginable. President Goodluck Jonathan, as a father also is deeply concerned. The leadership of this country is concerned about bringing these girls back home. But more important now is how we do that without endangering the lives of these girls. We have seen several examples across the world where the use of force in a hostage rescue turned out very nasty. We cannot afford any one life of those girls to be lost. Not one.
I must once again appeal to Nigerians to stand behind the military at this critical time. It is not a time to blame the Military or criticize them. Some of our brave military men and women have paid the supreme sacrifice in our efforts to combat terror and rescue our girls. We must show them some love and support.
The leadership of the APC has strongly criticized you for focusing too much on politics at the expense of your work at the Defence Ministry. They say you should be in Borno, not anywhere near Ondo, Ekiti or Osun.
When did it become the responsibility of the APC to dictate or doctor my movements? Do I dictate their movements? I am an employee of the Federal Government of Nigeria; the Minister of State for Defence. Several factors determine where I visit and why I visit. I don’t need the permission of the APC to go anywhere in the discharge of my official assignment. Two weeks ago I was in Warri, Yenagoa, Calabar and Uyo. Next week I will be in Lagos. It is sad that the APC choses to play politics with everything. If I have a campaign in Ekiti, Ondo, Osun or Sokoto I will go there.
If I have not been to Borno today, it doesn’t mean I don’t have plans to go to Borno tomorrow. And how does Obanikoro going to Borno put an end to insurgency? It is laughable how they say I should go to Sambisa forest. As the Minister of State for Defence, I am largely a policy driver and administrator, not a war general. What is important is that I am briefed on results of our tactical deployments and the situation on ground and the world is a global village where Obama’s decisions in Washighton DC shames the outcomes of events in the far Middle East. The APC should worry less about my location and worry more about their elections. That has been their trademark. For them, politics is everything and winning elections at all cost even if you have to demonise and smear the other man with propaganda.
As a prominent Lagosian, what is your assessment of the Babatunde Fashola administration and what his performance so far portends for the future of Lagos?
My brother Fashola has tried. I commend him for his efforts and commitment to Lagos State. But there is still a lot of work to be done in post-Fashola Lagos. Whoever becomes the next governor of Lagos will have a lot in their hands trying to create a more inclusive and people-centered Lagos where development is felt across board whether you are rich or poor.
It has been widely rumored that Jimi Agbaje was encouraged to join the PDP partly to checkmate your influence in Lagos PDP should you decide to run for governor of Lagos under the PDP. Are you threatened?
Threatened? Not at all! There cannot be two Musiliu Obanikoros anywhere in the world. So I find the issue of checkmating Obanikoro’s influence in Lagos PDP with a Jimi Agbaje very funny. Only God confers power and influence on men. What belongs to a man belongs to him. And don’t forget PDP is a very democratic party and it is the only party that every Nigerian can comfortably call their own.
It is not a one-man contraption like you find elsewhere around here. Recently at the mega rally in Osogbo, you should have heard the President when he declared that the PDP does not impose candidates on any of its constituencies. That is the spirit that drives our party. If I decide to run for governor of Lagos in the PDP and Jimi also decides to run, just like other aspirants in the party, we will test our popularity at the primaries. That is what democracy is all about. My brother Jimi is a fine gentleman. I am happy he has now found the light. He is welcome to our party and I wish him well.